Social Media Research: The shift from metrics to audience insight

There’s a problem with being an agency that professes to be methodologically neutral. What it actually ends up meaning is that we are far from being neutral. We need opinions about lots of methodologies. By comparison having the sales pitch for an agency’s particularly Blackbox™ memorised is actually pretty straightforward. To be methodology neutral is to have to learn to be picky in much the same way our clients have to be picky. It means developing a critical eye for what is new and additive to what can be done already. Which tools are doing the same things but quicker or cheaper? And which tools just aren’t relevant.

In our recent webinar with Commetric (view here), we talked about some of ways in which research grounded in social media can add to what we are able to do as researchers.

As Sarah from Commetric said at the start of the session, the short history of social media analytics is mostly the history of measures that are themselves about social media. These measures don’t necessarily tell us anything about people’s lives away from their screens. At best these are a useful, if narrow, addition to businesses’ ability to track the effects of their marketing spend. At worst they are vanity metrics that do little more than reassure you that your brand hasn’t been forgotten since you last checked.

But we also heard about ways social data and analytics can inform wider business challenges – portfolio development, positioning, creative development and comms strategy. This for us is where it starts to become a more interesting tool. Although these are classic marketing tasks, social data brings an ability to reach these things more passively, without the unavoidable framing of a discussion guide or a questionnaire, and at great scale and velocity.

We also talked through ways of using social as a data source during the scoping and set-up phases of projects to sharpen hypotheses, and as a complement to other data sources, bringing out perspectives traditional research participants are either unwilling or unable to share under direct interrogation.

Ultimately the rules of engagement here are pretty broadly applicable to any data source – but no less useful for those who have to keep their critical faculties sharp:

1 / Make sure you know what business question you are trying to answer; don’t pick the tool until you thoroughly understand the job to be done

2 / Use social media analytics for its strengths in honesty, flexibility and scale, while being aware that not everyone is on social media, and that those who are communicate in a very particular unfiltered way

3 / Consider combining multiple data sources to arrive at a fuller picture. Rarely are all the answers to be found in one place, even a place as huge and diverse as social media